by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) May 10, 2011
For carbon, the basis of life, to be able to form in the stars, a certain state of the carbon nucleus plays an essential role. In cooperation with US colleagues, physicists from the University of Bonn and Ruhr-Universitat Bochum have been able to calculate this legendary carbon nucleus, solving a problem that has kept science guessing for more than 50 years. The researchers published their results in the coming issue of the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"Attempts to calculate the Hoyle state have been unsuccessful since 1954," said Professor Dr. Ulf-G. Meissner (Helmholtz-Institut fur Strahlen- und Kernphysik der Universitat Bonn).
"But now, we have done it!" The Hoyle state is an energy-rich form of the carbon nucleus. It is the mountain pass over which all roads from one valley to the next lead: From the three nuclei of helium gas to the much larger carbon nucleus. This fusion reaction takes place in the hot interior of heavy stars. If the Hoyle state did not exist, only very little carbon or other higher elements such as oxygen, nitrogen and iron could have formed. Without this type of carbon nucleus, life probably also would not have been possible.
The search for the "slave transmitter"
The main transmitter is the stable carbon nucleus from which humans - among others - are made. "But we are interested in one of the unstable, energy-rich carbon nuclei; so we have to separate the weaker radio transmitter somehow from the dominant signal by means of a noise filter."
What made this possible was a new, improved calculating approach the researchers used that allowed calculating the forces between several nuclear particles more precisely than ever. And in JUGENE, the supercomputer at Forschungszentrum Julich, a suitable tool was found. It took JUGENE almost a week of calculating. The results matched the experimental data so well that the researchers can be certain that they have indeed calculated the Hoyle state.
More about how the Universe came into existence
In future, this may even allow answering philosophical questions using science. For decades, the Hoyle state was a prime example for the theory that natural constants must have precisely their experimentally determined values, and not any different ones, since otherwise we would not be here to observe the Universe (the anthropic principle).
"For the Hoyle state this means that it must have exactly the amount of energy it has, or else, we would not exist," said Prof. Meissner. "Now we can calculate whether - in a changed world with other parameters - the Hoyle state would indeed have a different energy when comparing the mass of three helium nuclei." If this is so, this would confirm the anthropic principle.
The study was jointly conducted by the University of Bonn, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, North Carolina State University, and Forschungszentrum Julich.
University of Bonn
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